Luang Prabang: North Bank

We spent the last lazy Sunday of our time in Luang Prabang doing something we don’t often get to do in Vientiane: Stroll around at a leisurely place and relax. I camped out at Le Banneton cafe for a few hours while Lori and Noe slept in and got ready. The main street was closed to traffic, well, adult-sized traffic, that is.

After breakfast, we wandered around the outside perimeter of the palace museum complex, trying to find the so-called “Navigation Office” to buy tickets for the regular ferries crossing the river. We finally gave up and opted for the old-fashioned way, boarding the ferry and waiting until someone asked us for money, which ended up being what all the other passengers did. It appears that there are two choices of ferries for crossing to Xieng Man village – steel auto ferries of various sizes or smaller wooden river boat ferries. There was an auto ferry getting ready to leave, so we took that one.

Many a weekend in Belize was spent on boats, but we really haven’t spent much time on any since. Noe’s first “boat ride” was on a cable ferry crossing the Willamette River in Oregon. This was his second, and a bit more of a proper boat ride. Hopefully, we can take Noe on a proper boat down the Mekong in the not too distant future.

Phu Si hill and the banks of Old Town, as viewed from Xieng Maen village across the river.

Map of Luang Prabang Old Town and Ban Xieng Maen area.

We followed the dirt road up the hill through a small market, before turning right onto a very nice (and narrow) brick-lined road through the village.

If only we had a bit more time and I had access to a shower, I totally would have gotten my hair cut. Oh well, guess I’ll have to just keep growing it out.

Walking through the center of Ban Xieng Maen in 2012, and again today, it’s obvious that this isn’t your typical village in Laos. Judging by the level of infrastructure and investment in this tiny community, it’s clear that Xieng Maen has benefited greatly from it’s UNESCO tourist magnet across the river — to what end, however, it’s not so clear.

Xieng Maen has a handful of wats to visit, both in and outside of the village, but not much else to offer visitors. Therefore, it’s not clear to me what the justification is for the level of infrastructure investment here, which far surpasses that of hundreds of villages around Laos just like it. Perhaps it’s as simple as benefiting from existing within the borders of one of the more prosperous provinces in terms of tourist revenue, UNESCO funding, and foreign investment. Or, perhaps the Lao PDR government is seeking to capitalize on the Luang Prabang crowds in an effort to more widely distribute tourism revenue. It just seems odd to me that there would be few if any local shops or restaurants for visitors to patronize.

Either way, the residents here have quite the nice little village on their hands, if I do say so.

Looks like the monks were busy last night…or their next-door neighbor.

It was definitely the hottest day of our visit, made even more so by the lack of shade or hint of a breeze. Noe was starting to get hungry, and we all were getting pretty soppy and sweat-drenched.

After walking the length of the village, and back again, looking for two very elusive things to come together — a shaded couple of chairs, and a cold beverage — we finally found this small shop with sodas and a table and chairs under a tree.

We thought we might climb up to Wat Chomphet and maybe hit the Buddha cave and other wats farther along the hill, but the heat and humidity were taking their toll, and spending the last few hours in town sipping a fun beverage at a cafe sounded nice. So, after our water and soda break, we put the kid back on and returned to the boat ramp.

Seems these crazy couple of trucks barreling toward the river had the same idea.

Here comes the ferry!

Thankfully, the two large rigs behind us waited until a larger ferry arrived, though we were kind of looking forward to seeing them squeeze on to our ferry.

Crossing back, it’s obvious that Noe is having a tough time containing his enthusiasm for his Mekong boat adventure.

Maybe next time…

On the way back, it’s a pretty full flight on the larger Airbus A320 (as opposed to the ATR-72 prop plane we came in on). I just narrowly miss the wats of Old Town out my window, but still catch a glimpse of the lights of the town center before they disappear below the clouds. Even on a jetliner, we still cruise at 13,000 feet, just above the clouds, making it runway to runway back to Vientiane in just under 20 minutes.

Upon arrival at Vientiane’s “temporary” domestic terminal, we have all sorts of fun collecting our luggage amongst an entire airliner’s-worth of passengers crammed into a room the size of a large walk-in closet. Welcome back!

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